The madwoman had refused to budge until I had taken, not one, but two showers. She had given some inane reasoning about how sensitive lycan noses were to the strong odors of humans. The need to be free of this maddening monotonous space was enough to prevent me from arguing with her, taking time to carefully scrub each part of me to prevent her from demanding that I take more. It wasn’t that I was filthy, it was that I was simply not clean enough. Clean enough for them, that is.
“So, that’s why they made us bathe multiple times a day before we were introduced,” I grumbled as I followed her through the maze of corridors. My skin still tingled from the abrasive strokes I administered to it several minutes before.
The corridors were shadowed, the only light deriving from the elegant sconces on the wall. Initially, the main entrance hall with its large and numerous windows cast its bright, cheery glow down the wide corridors. However, the further you went down those corridors, the more shadows you encountered. Not all hallways were basked in shadows, some being shorter in length or more exposed to light that filtered through windows at the end of them. This one, though, seemed to go on forever.
The woman chuckled. “No, my dear. The reason you were required to take multiple baths then was to prevent any other lycan from catching your scent. Had some of them known all you young ladies were kept on the outskirts of the property, they might have strayed in that direction and tried to take what did not belong to them.” Casting a glance back over her shoulder, she set to chastising me. “It is my understanding you have already witnessed this first-hand.” As she turned to give me a glance, I nearly ran into her. Her hand rested against my upper arm. “My dear, you must learn to control your tongue. At least until you can defend yourself,” she said, squeezing my arm.
“Defend myself,” I asked incredulously. “Against a lycan?” The pitch of my voice rose at the insinuation of her statement.
The woman waved her hand in the air, nearly dismissing the question in its entirety. “But of course, dear.” She turned back towards the direction we were heading, her dress whispering once more against the movement of her legs. “Now, if you would simply take at least one bath a day, you would be quite acceptable.”
The wry smile on her face made me frown, mumbling to myself that I couldn’t seriously be that bad if I skipped a day. Of course, with her acute hearing, she heard everything I had to say and merely chuckled at my indignation.
Instead of arguing my point, I opted to focus on more questions as I attempted to keep tabs of our route through this overly large home. “What was the point of separating us women from all of you if we were just going to cohabitate eventually anyway?” The question came out with a little more derision than I had hoped.
The woman turned her head a fraction and lifted her brow, her lips bearing signs of a composure that made me envious. She smiled, her warmth discernable, but so was the edge. “Why, so you remained uncompromised until Lord Kolbeck returned.” Her gaze ran down the corridor, taking in one door and then the next. “He had only just returned the day of the feast.”
It was said as if it was common knowledge. What was more surprising is how all the women were brought here for one man. Who exactly was Kallan? “All these women were brought here for one man?” No wonder he was so arrogant!
This beautiful woman laughed, and it echoed down the hall. “No, my dear. You were brought here for him. The rest of the women were victims of ’wrong place, wrong time’,” she quipped. “Though, I am sure they are now quite happy with their circumstances.” The assured tone in her voice bothered me, even though I had seen first hand that the women were taking to their lives here better than I would have thought.
“Returned? From where?”
The woman moved ahead a few more doors and waved a delicate hand in front of her. “He spent weeks tracking that ungodly priest that attacked you. It’s no wonder Kallen has been a bit cranky. That beastly priest must have gone underground. I imagine he will eventually show back up again...and when he does...” The woman smiled predatorily as she lifted her brows with a slight motion, her meaning all too clear.
As I was about to open my mouth and ask where we were going, she stopped in front of me. “Ah, here we are!”
“Where is here,” I asked.
Without offering an answer, she quietly opened a set of doors and stood back to allow me to enter first. For a moment, I stood at the entrance and simply drank in the sight.
Kallan sat on folded legs, his knees and feet bearing the brunt of his weight. The room was dark aside from the glow of the reflection pool that he knelt before. The blue and white lights cast a glow over his features that made him appear nearly angelic, if not for the thickly muscled sinew that covered the expanse of his nearly nude body.
Though I had seen his body completely naked, it was different watching his form without him to bear witness to it. There was no denying that his body was chiseled to perfection, a body meant to serve and protect.
The thought was nearly sobering. It was a long-ago phrase that I hadn’t thought of since I was a teenager. A time when men and women in uniform would offer a sense of peace, serenity, and security. How did they not see this coming? How did any of us not see this coming? Certainly, there were signs...something that would have warned us...to allow us to prepare.
Instead, I now stood at the entrance to a door that would lead me to a man that was either an enemy of mankind, or my protector. He had been tracking the priest that could have easily taken my life. How would he know about that...unless he was there?
The woman nudged me forward, causing me to awkwardly step over the threshold. The room was massive in size, as though it might have been a ballroom at one time that held hundreds of people within its confines. The circular reflecting pool took up the center of the floor, and the windows at the far end and on one side of the room were shut against any light that might have otherwise filtered in at this time of day.
The man before me didn’t move, didn’t even flinch. Though, I knew he was aware of our presence in the room. Even from this distance, I could see the barest pulse in his tightened jaw.
“I don’t suppose you were expecting us,” I tossed at him. At the moment, I felt so conflicted about him. It took every effort not to turn around and flee back to my room. That is if the woman who ushered me here would even allow me to push past her.
His head bowed down towards his chest, but his eyes remained shut. “Marcie, what is she doing here?”
The words rankled me. Here I asked a completely pleasant comment, in my opinion, and he could not even offer me a courteous hello. What was this world coming to?
“I’m right here, you know!” It didn’t matter if I was polite or not, he was not the affable sort, apparently.
Kallan inhaled a breath before answering. “I know perfectly well where you are, mina para. Never fear that!” Lifting his head, he turned to give a quick glance at the woman who stood directly behind me. Addressing her, he said, “she shouldn’t be here, and you know that.”
The woman waved off his admonishment. “What I know, dear boy, is that you cannot leave her isolated in a room until her menses arrive simply because you don’t trust yourself to impose on her sensibilities. For Christ’s sake, she is your mate, my dear. You should be treating her as such!”
“My menses,” I asked.
Kallan had already started to respond before Marcie leaned towards me and whispered, “Your monthly menstrual cycle.” She reached out a hand to pat mine gently, giving me a compassionate smile.
My face colored with embarrassment. Of course, they would be able to scent something so personal and intimate. The staff had made sure that womanly supplies were in adequate quantity in the rooms I had stayed.
Kallan cleared his throat. “My decisions are not to be challenged by you, Marcie. Regardless of your opinions, they are my decisions...decisions that are meant to be followed.”
“Huh,” she smirked. “Well, I suppose you will have to take her back, then.” She made the pretense of looking at her watch before casting a wide, knowing grin at Kallan and myself. “It appears I am late for an appointment.”
“Marcie,” Kallan warned.
She patted my hand once more before moving towards the door. “Take care of him. His bark is always worse than his bite, especially where his womenfolk are concerned.”
“I am not one of his womenfolk!” I started to dispute the accusation at the same time Kallan called her name.
Instead of her responding to either of us, she simply turned on her heel and exited the room. Before she was completely out of earshot, she shut the door after saying, “I am sure you two will manage well without me.”
When the door was shut, I stared at it for longer than I should have. Part of me hoped that she would return, the other part was trying to determine the best way to put my plan of compliance into motion. Finally deciding on a course of action, I turned back towards Kallan and walked the expanse of the floor until I was just out of arm’s reach.
“Now you decide to listen to someone,” he muttered in an irritated growl.
Before I could stop the words, they spilled from my mouth. “And just what is that supposed to mean?” My arms crossed over my chest of their own volition as I waited for his response, my eyes narrowing on him with indignation.
Kallan bowed his head to where his chin nearly touched his chest. Sighing, he picked it back up to turn tired eyes on me. “It means that you leave a mess in your wake everywhere you go. A mess that I am forced to clean up behind you. Have you any clue the damage and harm you have caused for me and my people in the short time you have been here?”
“I didn’t ask to be here! Have you forgotten that?”
He didn’t blink or bat an eye at my argument. “How could I forget? You haven’t let a moment pass without that constant reminder.” The tone in his voice was fatigued, the tone of a man carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. “You have been so busy reminding me of your contempt for me and my people, that you haven’t even tried to look at the world past your own tainted existence.”
I scoffed. “You mean the tainted existence that you and your kind help taint?”
“No,” he bit out. “The existence that we have worked hard to allow humans a place to remain in. But you don’t see that, do you? You want to lump us all together as all being foul and evil! Do you think all humans are upstanding examples of your kind? Have you ever thought that the rumors and stories you heard were just that...rumors?”
That struck me hard. Here I was arguing with a man...no, a lycan...that had tried to track the priest who was nearly ready to end my life. “You went after the man that was going to kill me.” Though I meant it to be a question, it rang as a statement.
He dropped his head, letting his eyes move to the floor. It was confirmation enough. “You have allowed the rumors of my people to taint you from learning the truth of our kind. You rage against those that have fought to win you a place among us…”
The words grated on me. “You mean by taking us from the only families we know, imprisoning us on your lands, and force-feeding us your truths?”
“You haven’t even tried to learn the truth on your own. We tried to educate you on our history and give you the chance to see a different perspective from what you have been led to believe, had amazing tutors in our ways that were kind and compassionate show you how life could be co-existing with our kind...yet you prefer to thwart everything we have tried to accomplish and lash out at my people and neighboring packs without even an ounce of self-control-”
My mouth dropped open at his accusations, my anger flaring as I interrupted. “You are blaming me for what that pig did? Drake attacked me! I didn’t ask for any of that!”
Kallan ran a hand through his pale hair, his eyes haunted by the demons chasing him. “Did it ever occur to you not to provoke those that cross your path?”
“Maybe you didn’t hear me right. He attacked me!” The tension started to crawl down my spine, the muscles in my legs straining in a fight or flight response. It felt all too ready to fight these days.
“Did it occur to you to simply tell him you were looking for me? That you were my mate?” He watched my expression for several seconds before continuing. “Drake is the alpha of one of the largest packs in our kingdom…”
“And a royal asshole, to boot! I don’t give a rat’s ass who he is! He has no right to touch me like he did! None!”
Kallan sighed once more, and then stood silently. “You are strong-willed, Sedona, but you are weak-minded. I cannot have a mate in my bed and by my side, that will bring ruination to my kingdom and my people.”
My arms dropped to my side as Kallan stood from his place on the floor. He turned to walk away from me and I asked, “What does that mean?”
With his hand on the doorknob, he paused. “It means you are free to go.” The words echoed in the chamber around me, tiny ripples in the reflecting pond echoing the deep timbre in his voice.
“Goodbye, mina para.” With that, he walked out the door.